What Will 2021 Mean For Global Defence?

As the world enters 2021, what are the wider defence challenges countries such as the UK and the US face?

The coronavirus pandemic has carried some questions with it into the New Year, with a global focus largely turning to vaccination programmes.

It is thought NATO may benefit from a more conventional US leader in Joe Biden, as he remains set to become the new Commander in Chief of the world's most powerful military.

Troops operating under the defence alliance are awaiting Mr Biden's immediate judgement on whether withdrawal from Afghanistan should go ahead.

Last year's peace deal, which was brokered by the US under the Trump administration, demanded a reduction in Taliban violence in exchange for personnel departure.

However, 2020 saw repeated attacks on local Afghan forces.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said "hard decisions" on troop withdrawals will be made in February, when defence ministers meet.

The prevention of military conflict will also be in this year's defence inbox.

Iran has begun enriching uranium to effectively a step below weapons-grade, a topic heavily disputed since Donald Trump pulled the US out of a nuclear deal in 2018.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action was established in 2015, exchanging a reduction in economic sanctions on Iran for a limitation on its uranium enrichment – amid fears it could be developing a nuclear weapon.

Joe Biden is willing to re-enter the deal, but Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said increased activity will make it difficult to go "back to square one".

US President Elect Joe Biden speaks about US national security agencies.
US President Elect Joe Biden will have a number of challenges to face up to in 2021.

China's construction of military bases in the South China Sea has prompted speculation over the first destination for the newly-operational UK Carrier Strike Group.

The at-sea formation will see Royal Navy vessels travelling in groups, led by an aircraft carrier, potentially with the support of allied nations.

Russia's relationship with the West is also set for another year in the spotlight – with multiple international treaties either abandoned or expiring.

This includes the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War pact to reduce nuclear weapon capabilities which has now been left behind by Russia and the US.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to grip entire populations, the emergence of new world leaders is expected to be met by new and old challenges.

Cover image: Anonymous RAF Pilot walks out to a Typhoon FGR4 to prepare for take-off with four F16s from Konya Air Base (Picture: MOD).